Beyond our Edges: Christina Hopkins – Teaching Past Fear
Christina Hopkins admits with a smile that she’s been fairly non-stop lately, especially since her daughter was born almost two years ago. A successful engineer at Urban Systems’ Edmonton office and a first-time mom, she’s also a talented ski instructor and even occasionally hangs from the ceiling, navigating aerial silks. Our freelance writer, Cindy Hughes, chatted with Christina about her life, her background as a ski instructor and athlete, and how she brings lessons learned on the hill into her work with clients each day.
Urban Systems – Cindy (USC): Christina, can you tell us a bit about what you do at Urban?
Christina Hopkins (CH): Sure. I’m trained as an engineer, but these days I work mainly in the asset management area. So, when clients are doing infrastructure development, I work with them to develop processes and good business practises. I love what I do.
USC: Outside of work you’ve been passionate about skiing for quite some time, haven’t you?
CH: Yes, I absolutely love it. I started skiing at age 8, and I took to it right from the get go. My very first job was as an assistant ski instructor at Snow Valley when I was 14. That job consisted mainly of picking small children up from the ground and standing them back up again, but I quickly realized I have a passion for teaching at a very core level. Teaching was so rewarding for me, especially teaching something I had a knack and love for.
USC: And you continued to teach skiing as you got older?
CH: Yes. Some of my favourite experiences with skiing instruction involved taking adults or kids who were afraid and giving them the skills and tools they needed to manage that—the fear is never totally gone but the ability to work with it improves. I like to take a slow and more gentle approach. Through that work I got very clear that there are different kinds of learning. Some people are visual learners, some are theoretical and some are experiential—pinpointing how people learn is something I really enjoy doing. It’s pretty cool watching people build their confidence. I’d often say, “You may fall but you won’t fall far. I’ll catch you.” I feel like I’ve really brought those learnings into my work with clients at Urban.
USC: That’s interesting. Can you talk a bit more about how your ski instructing informs your work at Urban?
CH: Although our clients are facing organizational challenges rather than physical ones, the fear is still there. I understand it’s not just about ‘okay you need this new process to have better asset management in your community’ there is also a human side of things—so how will people connect with new processes? The fear of failure is normal, so my experience in overcoming that fear in new skiers has been helpful in supporting clients who are afraid of doing something new or maybe not getting the outcome they need. Having guidance and the opportunity to fail is key. In skiing, some kids would just want to go straight down the hill. I’d suggest turning and they’d say no, then have a crash. Learning by experiencing those small controlled failures, with someone on hand to make sure nothing really bad happens is really quite powerful. I try to give both new skiers and clients the confidence that I’m there to support them, and that if they fall, they won’t fall far.
USC: We heard you’re into aerial silks too—that’s unique! How did that come about?
CH: One of my co-workers said ‘hey I am thinking of trying this new program’ and we just went and tried it out. It was really awesome. It’s definitely a physical challenge but the best way to forget about any stresses during the day. You climb up a silk, get yourself all wrapped up and think ‘okay I’m going to let go.’ It looks elegant but you get silk burns, even just one drop bruises and burns you. There’s a lot of core strength involved in that, and it reminds me of skiing when we’d hike up beyond lifts to areas accessible only by dropping in off a small cliff. The idea of just letting go and falling isn’t foreign to me, I know my body will catch me—I have confidence in that. Knowing my body has the strength to pull me up is really empowering.
USC: You seem so active and brave! What advice do you have for people who want to get fit and start doing a new sport?
CH: Be honest about your physical abilities. Since I had my daughter, I haven’t done silks. If I went back now I know I’d be coming back several steps behind where I was. Being honest about where you’re starting from is really important, as is being kind to yourself in your progress. Take time to reflect on how you’re improving and don’t expect yourself to be a star athlete right from the get go.
USC: You mentioned your daughter… can you talk about becoming a mom and how it has impacted you?
CH: My daughter will be two at the end of June, and she has completely and fundamentally changed things for me. As much as I’m a product of all my experiences and all I’ve done, becoming a mother has changed me at a base level in a way I’ve never experienced. We had some challenges in the beginning. She was a terrible sleeper and at the three month mark she was not sleeping more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time. I was a zombie and a shell of myself. Eventually the doctors figured out she had a food sensitivity and we were able to put her on a hypoallergenic formula, which worked right away and was life changing. Honestly, that period without sleep brought me to the most base rock bottom period I’ve experienced in my life. When I eventually came back to work, not much was scary anymore. I had survived my most raw state, with lots of support from those around me. There is now a distinct lack of lack of butterflies when trying something new at work. That time as a new mom gave me a baseline of confidence I didn’t have before; it served me very well. And my daughter continues to keep me very humble. Just when you think you have it figured out and have an optimized plan she throws it out the window. It’s made me become a truly adaptable person. I like to have a plan so it’s painful sometimes though, I will admit (laughs).
USC: Christina, What does the future hold for you?
CH: My consultancy at Urban Systems has expanded exponentially since I’ve been back from maternity leave, so that’s been really exciting. More and more opportunities are coming up; I’m working with more clients and developing deeper relationships with them. People and clients are genuinely interested in what we have to offer. Right now I am loving that through my work I am finding outlets for my passion to teach and for the confidence that I got in myself after my own ‘birth’ as a mother. The climate for asset management in the province of Alberta is right in the market, and right in me. I also can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to hit the slopes with me!